Thursday, January 18, 2018

Steve Erickson, Rubicon Beach (1986)

The fact that I took so long to read this novel should be attributed to me having being somewhat preoccupied with other things. It says nothing about the novel one way or the other.

But Christ, man, it could. So the novel is in three parts. The first is a first-person narrative by a man named Cale who, in some dream-like alt-American went to jail for being accidentally involved in subversive political activity. While there, he accidentally reveals the leader of this political movement and gets him executed and himself released. He's taken to an apocalyptic Los Angeles where radios are outlawed and put under a semi-house arrest for unclear reasons. He witnesses, or possibly has a vision of, a woman on a boat beheading a man and becomes obsessed with finding her.

The second part of the novel switches over to the third person and concerns the woman in question, a South American Indian, and her eventual journey north. Midway through, it more or less switches over to being about the family of the screenwriter which takes her in as a maid.

The third part is about a young man growing up in Depression-era America and beyond. It is at first not at all obvious what this has to do with either of the first two parts, though it later becomes apparent, or as apparent as anything is in this novel.

So. The thing is. Erickson's talent is obvious, and there are parts of this novel that are really gripping. Mainly the first and second sections, but even the third has its moments. But I have to say, put together, they are decidedly indigestible, and the conclusion is one of these things where you just want to say, for fuck's sake, Erickson, we get the picture: you're extremely good at being abstruse. Congratulations. But do you have anything else for us? Maybe an author deserves praise for pursuing such an uncompromising vision, but I left this book feeling more exasperated than anything else. I still plan on reading more of Erickson at some point--his vision is too singular not to--but not at this exact moment.   


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